My 3 year wedding anniversary is right around the corner! August 18th, to be precise. My husband and I have been together for 9 years. And although we were married at a relatively young age, we were heavily involved in the planning of our nuptials. Well, let me rephrase that- we planned the whole. entire. thing. From music to florals, favors, our family's attire to the location of every prop and candle that was placed on the day of. We had our hands on nearly everything.
But first a few photos to reminisce...
Photos: Chris Wesselman
Why, you may be asking, did we not have a wedding planner or florist to take care of things for us? Weddings are freaking expensive. (Yeah, we just happen to live in the #4 most expensive place on that list.) And in life, as many things do, it simply revolved around budget. We were very fortunate that my parents paid for our wedding. We are so grateful and realize we are beyond lucky that they did. But a budget is a budget and we only had a set amount of cash to get the wedding of our dreams. If you're lucky, this will be the best party you'll throw in your life! In the end, we had a fabulous country club affair that, if we outsourced things like florals, decor, stationery, etc. the cost of our wedding would have indeed, doubled.
I wanted to share some thoughts on planning your own wedding on a budget today. I'll save the execution part for another day. But for now, I have some great tips to help get your creative juices flowing and money saving mindset started. So pour a glass of wine, grab your better half and dive in. Because here's the secret: You can have the wedding of your dreams but you may have to work a little harder, sweat a little more, and plan more than you think is necessary. It's all worth it, though- I promise!
1. Get Microsoft Excel stat
The most critical tool my husband and I used was Microsoft Excel. With it, we made our budget, guest lists, seating lists, kept track of vendors, made price lists for decor, and so much more. If you don't have Excel, download it as soon as you become engaged. It will quickly become your bff.
2. Establish your budget early
The second most important thing is to establish your budget. How can you plan anything if you don't know how much money you have to work with? I'd also suggest getting a checking account and putting your entire budget's worth of cash in it. You will be writing lots and lots of checks. A separate account will keep things tidy so the wedding money doesn't get mixed up with your regular spending money.
3. Know your per person price
After you establish budget, you can then decipher how many guests you can have. Note I said can have, not want to have. My husband and I had to make serious cuts to our original guest list. He has a HUGE extended family but unfortunately, we were unable to accommodate them all because we were super strict with our budget. Our venue was also unable to handle more than 150 people (we had around 110 total.)
My take on making the guest list (which is probably the most stressful part of this whole thing!) is to only invite the people you love, the people who love you, the people who have made a significant impact on your life/vice versa, and the people who you are in contact with regularly.
Then, calculate the per person price of each guest in attendance. How much will it cost for one person's food, utensils, seats, favors, drinks and so on? After you account for your guests you know how much you have left for the rest of your planning (flowers, attire, decor, etc.)
4. Do your homework
This means shopping around- scour online and brick and mortar stores as if your life depends on it. Get multiple quotes, ask for deals/discounts, and save every piece of information you've collected (in Excel!) before making any decisions. Both my husband and I spent hours surfing the Internet and New York City for decor pieces, like candles and vases, and flowers. (Did you pour that glass of wine yet? All the online window shopping will have that wine flowing, trust me...) We walked the NYC flower district and talked directly with salespeople. We called a bunch of discount and wholesaler type businesses to get a better handle on price. We also inquired with multiple vendors before choosing the final one. Shop around.
Remember that you have to be savvy. It is not a choice, but a necessity for us on a budget.
5. Be flexible with your day/month/season
Originally, my dream was a September wedding. But as it turns out, everyone else wants to get married then, too! This drives the prices of things up. And our country club was completely booked. June and October were also popular months. August worked out because our out of town family was still able to come before everyone had to go back to school. September would have been a terrible choice as most of our family wouldn't have been able to make it. Things usually seem to work out for whatever reason even though we may not realize it until later...
During the Winter, chances are, business is slow and wedding venues and vendors may charge less. Explore all your options and don't get your heart set on one specific day/month/season. If you're flexible, your budget can stretch you a little further.
One final note on the topic- book as far in advance as possible. Prices increase for venues and vendors yearly. It's just the nature of the business- everything seems to cost more and more as time goes on. We signed our contract with our venue in 2011 (and paid 2011 prices, yay!) even though our wedding was in 2012. We saved thousands by booking early.
6. Opt for an all white color scheme
Especially when it comes to flowers- color is a tricky thing. If you have a florist, then you don't have to worry as much. But since we did all the flowers ourself (and ordered them all online!) we found out quickly that neutrals were our best friend! You can pretty much assume that a white flower will be white. But a blue or purple flower? If you don't see them in person, how will you know if they are the right shade? Light blue, dark blue, medium blue...? You get what I'm saying.
Our flowers were all the most beautiful shades of white, ivory, cream and blush. We splurged on cafe au lait dahlias, my favorites (which were perfectly in season, too!) and they added the tiniest bit of color. Neutrals are soft, pretty, elegant, and timeless. White flowers are also cheaper. Need I say more?
7. Don't have a wedding party
This may seem totally unreasonable for some brides and grooms but for me, it was the natural choice. I've always been friends with everyone but never really too close to anyone. My husband is my best friend and he was the only person I could envision sharing the stage with that day.
If this is impossible for you, opt for just a maid of honor and a best man. Or cap it at two maids and two groomsmen. The less people in the bridal party, the less planning/coordinating there is- thus, less money and time have to be spent on the matter. And stress. Less stress for sure! I was so zen before my wedding, my manicurist couldn't believe I was getting married the following day. I account not having to worry about a bridal party for my relaxed mood.
We did have a flower girl and ring bearer. They were (and still are!) the cutest, sweetest brother and sister duo. And the wedding wouldn't have been the same without them.
So there you have them- 7 helpful (I hope!) bits of wisdom from a girl (and guy) that seriously budgeted their entire wedding day. While of course, more money would have made logistics easier, my husband and I look back fondly at the challenge. We are planners by nature so we loved all the work that went into our big day. Just remember one thing brides and grooms- be sure to take a moment for yourself- take in the scenes, scents, visuals, and ambiance of your wedding day. It really goes by in a flash. How I wish I could go back in time and revisit the whole day again. It really was the party of our lives. And our guests thought so too. Three years later, we still are told that it was "the best wedding we've ever been to." After coordinating the entire thing, there is no greater compliment we could hope for.
If you are engaged, I'd love to know more about your wedding (especially if you have a budget to stick to!) Are you opting to do things yourself? If so, what projects are you tackling? And of course, congrats- this is one of the most exciting times in your life! For any other married folks out there- have you any tips? Is there anything you did to save money? Let's hear 'em!